A Few Things

December 18, 2015

christmas corner

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? Is today the last day of school for your kids before Christmas break? Are you taking any time off work next week? I’m definitely feeling like our Christmas vacation starts today! We hosted the seminary holiday party at our house this morning. My mom arrives in an hour. The kids are out of school at 3:00, and have no school next week. Teacher gifts have been handed in. Ralph finished his last final yesterday evening. We have tickets to Star Wars at 6:00 tonight. And we’re headed to a Christmas party after that. So basically: AWESOME DAY!!

And I think it will be an awesome weekend too. We still have some shopping to do, but not too much, and I’m looking forward to the errands on our list. How about you? How’s your weekend shaping up?

I’m off to do some last-minute cleaning before my mom arrives, but first, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share with you:

- A few Fridays ago I shared a link to this humorous, but also sort of sad, article about books no woman should read. Turns out the article made some (not all) men angry. The author responded with this article, titled Men Explain Lolita To Me, which I read today and really, really loved. I want everyone I’m going to see this week to read it so I can discuss it all day long. : )

Make it count. (Makes me want to buy a plane ticket to anywhere!)

- Exhaustion is not a status symbol.

- Hah! You think you hate autocorrect? Well autocorrect hates you too. (Some cussing in this one.)

- I haven’t seen the TV series, Transparent, but I want to after reading this article about Jill Soloway, the creator. She compares directing and producing to playing with dolls. She said women are really good at it.

- Do you think a flex work schedule is in your future?

- This is how systems maintain the status quo.

- Apparently this video is from three years ago, but I just saw it this week, and it’s beautiful.

To rejected writers.

I hope you have such a fantastic weekend! I hope it’s festive and cheerful and I hope you can find joy in your errands and parties and concerts and all of it. I’ll meet you back here next week. I miss you already.




Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Okay you guys. I have an awesome giveaway for you today. It’s sponsored by one of my favorite kids app makers, Toca Boca, and it’s to celebrate their brand new app, Toca Blocks! How would you like to win an iPad Mini, stocked and ready to go with the whole collection of Toca Boca apps? Fantastic, right?!!

Toca Blocks03 Toca Blocks07

If you’re not familiar with Toca Boca, let me tell you, I’m a huge fan. They make really engaging, really cool apps for kids. Creative apps that are about building, creating and exploring — not about winning or losing. They have several apps we love, and their newest, Toca Blocks, just came out today!

Toca Blocks08 Toca Blocks10

Toca Blocks is a world-building app. Your kids start with a blank canvas, and then they can experiment with the app’s blocks to construct their own unique worlds. There are a ton of different blocks in various colors, textures, and materials. But the coolest part, is that the blocks are ever evolving! They transform into different things when you combine them — dragging one on top of another creates all sorts of things, like new blocks or even objects like a chair or tree. Imagination is the limit! It’s cool to see your kids figure out endless ways to use the same item.

Toca Blocks is designed for ages 5-9 (though Oscar is 10 and he likes it too!). You can find it on the App Store (iOS devices) for $3.99. And if you’d like more info, you can see the app page here, or check out the Toca Blocks trailer here.

Oscar and Betty were able to preview Toca Blocks a couple of days ago. They adore all things Toca Boca! Here’s what they have to say about Toca Blocks:

From Oscar — “I like how you can make the blocks different things, and some of them were really funny — like a toilet. You can see things from other Toca Boca apps. You can mix blocks together by putting them on top of each other. There are so many different combinations! Then you build with them to make an obstacle course for a hedgehog, a bird, and a cat. But you don’t have to build an obstacle course. You could really build anything. A house, an ocean.”

From Betty — “We like Toca Blocks because you don’t have to win or lose or get points. It’s just fun to explore and make things. It’s like an adventure inside a screen.”

Toca Blocks01 Toca Blocks11 Toca Blocks06

Want to win the iPad Mini? Stocked with all the Toca Boca apps? Woo hoo! To enter, leave a comment below — tell me what your child’s favorite thing to build or create with blocks! Is it a garden for the characters to explore? An obstacle course? Then put your name in the widget. Easy!

And bonus! Once you put your name in the widget, you can unlock other entry options. You can follow Toca Boca’s social channels — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube — to earn more entries! Good luck. I hope you win!

Toca Boca Giveaway

P.S. — A few more details. The contest ends in two weeks. You must be 18 years or older and living in the United States to enter. You may only enter once by commenting, but you can gain up to four more entries by following Toca Boca’s social media accounts. The winner will be chosen at random and contacted directly to arrange prize shipment.


Have a plain brown paper package? Here's a few ideas how to dress it up! | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

I’m in love with this post! It’s not really a how-to or a DIY post. Instead, it’s designed to inspire and spark ideas. It’s all about how to embellish simple brown wrapping paper, and it’s chock full of examples.

How to Dress Up a Brown Paper Package | Design Mom

Even if you don’t have any of the add-ons featured in the photos, you probably have something similar. Raid the junk drawer and the craft cupboard. Scour your yard and the recycling bin. There’s a good chance you’ve already got everything you need to wrap your gifts up gorgeously this year.

how-to-wrap-a-package 9.1 how-to-wrap-a-package 11.1 how-to-wrap-a-package 10.1

Ribbons, paints, jingle bells, pom poms — dressing up the wrapped gift is almost as fun as giving it in the first place! Let’s get wrapping. This is going to be fun!

Click here for notes and ideas!


Family Travel in 2016!

December 16, 2015

Evert's Boathouse in West Sweden. Offers hotels rooms, fishing adventures on the sea, and fresh seafood feasts.

Photo and text by Gabrielle. I snapped this photo on one of our favorite trips.

I’m looking ahead to 2016. It doesn’t seem possible, but it’s really just 2 weeks away. And I can tell it’s going to be a good year. One of the topics I love writing about is family travel, and I hope to do a whole bunch of it in the next twelve months. So I’m delighted that today I get to announce: I’ve partnered with Alamo!

In 2016, I’m working on a series of Family Travel posts with Alamo. These won’t be travelogues or simple reports on our vacations and weekend getaways. Instead, they’ll be focused on helping you make the most of your travel. Trip ideas, how to keep the kids occupied, packing tips — that sort of thing. And I’ll be creating family travel Pinterest boards to go along with the content I’m creating!

Today, I’d love to hear: What kind of travel questions do you have for me? And what sorts of family travel topics would you like to see covered? My first post will go live in January, but in the meantime, I hope you’ll follow Alamo on Pinterest‚ and Design Mom, too — so you don’t miss a thing!


Live Nativity Oakland

Photo and text by Gabrielle. We saw the Live Nativity on Friday. Here’s the schedule if you want to check out it. There are a ton of Christmas events at Temple Hill — music, lights, etc. And it’s all free.

Here’s December’s installment of random thoughts just for you. Feel free to share your own random thoughts in the comments!

1) Some of the seminary students that come to our house in the mornings brought us a package of Abuelita. Have you tried it? It’s these hard disks of chocolate that you dissolve in hot milk or water to make hot cocoa. I mentioned this in the comments on the Hot Cocoa Bar post, but wanted to mention it here (because I know not everyone reads the comments), also, because I’m a little bit obsessed. It’s made by Nestlé and I can find it at my regular grocery store, so it’s nothing too out of the ordinary, but I had never heard of it until a couple of months ago.

Fun fact: my favorite hot cocoa mix in France was also made by Nestlé. Apparently they have my number as far as hot cocoa goes. Hah!

2) I’m thinking of sickness and the holidays. Little June has had a cold. She stayed home from church on Sunday and missed school on Monday and Tuesday. Nothing serious — she’s back in school today. But I can see the whole family is on the edge of it. Scratchy throats, sniffles. Life gets so busy and intense in December. We don’t end up getting enough sleep, and we eat too much junk. I feel like we’re all holding on, trying our best to stay healthy before the holiday hits. Because being sick on Christmas is the worst!

One of my early memories is Christmas at age 5. We had recently moved from California to St. George, Utah and I was super sick that year. I remember being on my parents bed and hearing everyone celebrating in the family room, and being too sick to join in. Poor little 5-year-old me.

Last year, we all made it through Christmas Day feeling healthy. But between Christmas and New Year’s we had a family retreat up in Russian River and we all got sick. But it turned out okay because the only thing on our schedule was watching movies anyway. : )

All that to say, I hope all of you reading are feeling strong and healthy!

3) Ben Blair wrote a series of 12 Advent Meditations, and he has been sharing them on his Facebook page. Today is day twelve. I’ve really enjoyed them and they’ve prompted good discussions in the comments. The posts aren’t public, but if you’d like to read them, you can ping him on Facebook and I’m sure he’ll share with you.

4) I had a huge wassail craving this week, and we made a big batch on Monday. I make it every December, though some years, it’s only for our Christmas Eve celebrations. For a decade or so, I followed my mother’s recipe, but these days I just wing it. I start with a carton of apple juice, then squeeze in the juice and pulp of 2 or 3 oranges and one lemon. Then I add wintery spices — cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, allspice, etc., and let the whole thing simmer. Do you ever make wassail? What’s your version like?

5) My mom is coming this Friday, and staying through the weekend! It’s a last minute trip and we’re so glad we get to see her before Christmas. It should be lots of fun. We’re all headed to the new Star Wars movie on Friday night (are there any lucky ducks going on Thursday?!), and there are good family events she’ll get attend, like Maude’s Cross Country team banquet.

6) Three of my kids are reading or re-reading all the Harry Potter books. Betty, Oscar and Olive. I can’t tell you how fun it is to see them on the sofa, curled up with the books and caught up in the adventure. Olive is on book 7, so she’s almost done. Oscar is on book 5 (Umbridge is the worst!!), Betty is on book 4. Our life right now is peppered with lots of Harry Potter discussions.

7) Probably the biggest thing on my mind: last month, just before Thanksgiving, we bought plane tickets for France!! Oh my goodness. I can’t tell you how excited I am. Ralph, Olive and Ben Blair have all been back to France since we moved, but the rest of us have not. We can not wait for this trip!! I feel like we all get a twinkle in our eye whenever we talk about it.

We’re going to spend the summer there. We head out on June 20th and return on August 20th. We’ve never bought tickets this far in advance — it’s hard to commit this far ahead, knowing we’ll miss some summer plans that come up. But on the other hand, it’s really nice to know it’s officially on the calendar so that we can plan around it. And the best part is that we got a total deal on tickets since we bought them so far ahead.

All of the kids passports expire soon, so the next step is getting photos for renewals. Woo hoo!

8) On Monday I turned forty-one-and-a-half. I didn’t feel much physical change at 40, but I have felt some since I turned 41. I won’t talk much about it now, but it’s on my mind and I want to write a post on this. I feel like I age in spurts. Like I look the same for years and then suddenly age over a weekend. Forty-one seems to one of my aging spurts. More on that later.

I think that’s it for today. Please feel free to respond to anything here, or bring up your own topic. I always love hearing what’s on your minds!

 P.S. — I post my random thoughts each month. You can find them all here.


Colorful Bauble Gift Tags - Print them yourself! | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Stephanie Lee for Design Mom.

Let’s talk holiday colors for a minute. When you pull out your boxes and bins of decorations, what is the main color you see?

At our house, I would say brown is one of the key colors since we’ve moved to the treehouse — wooden ornaments, pinecones, kraft paper wrapping, burlap ribbon — that sort of stuff. But I’ve tried a few different things over the years. Gold was definitely the key color for the first years of our marriage, and I still have the gold-gilded, papier-maché fruit ornaments I made for our first Christmas together. I also have a long-standing thing for the traditional red and green — in fact, if you were at my house right now, you would see a lot of red and green mixed in with the brown.

Free Colorful Printable Bauble Gift Tags | Design Mom

In addition, there’s one big ornament bin that has less-traditional colors. Pink and turquoise and yellow and purple. It started with a string of lights. In the late 90s Nordstrom based their holiday decor on the book, Olive The Other Reindeer, and they had these awesome lights to match. Globe bulbs in really interesting color combinations. (Does anyone else remember these?) I bought a string and wrapped it around a wreath, and hung it in the kids’ room.

Then, my friend Denise Daniel gave me several boxes of vintage ornaments she found in the very old house she bought — an assortment of gorgeous metallic pastels. I still have every one. They are like treasure! More recently, our daughter Olive added strings of pink lights that she used in a Taylor Swift costume.

Free Colorful Printable Bauble Gift Tags | Design Mom

It may be too late for this year, but I keep thinking I want get one of those bright white artificial trees and fill it with all my pinks and yellows and vintage blues. It would be a totally different look than what I’ve got going on right now, but would look fun in our family room against the colors in this wall map.

And speaking of non-traditional colors, Stephanie Lee, a maker in Australia, sent over these awesome printable gift tags in sherbet shades. They would be perfect under a pink-lit tree! Plus, they make a really good last-minute addition to your packages. Just print, trim and go!

But before we get to printing out gift tags, I’m curious. Do you have a particular color scheme you prefer for the holidays? Do you lean more traditional or more non-traditional? And have you ever switched it up?

Gift tag download and instructions when you click here.


Living With Kids: Mary Boyden

December 15, 2015

By Gabrielle.

All you really need to know about Mary is that there is a doodle wall in her daughters’ bedroom, a room also known as a kid’s version of Heaven. In fact, the entire house is an explosion of color and happy self-expression and a whole lot of whimsy. And that’s in addition to her daughter named Whimsy!

I am so pleased to show you this one-of-a-kind, out of the ordinary, shared with two friends, no wall left un-art-bombed home. It really is a feast for your senses, and will leave you craving a date with a paint brush and your littlest pal.

Welcome, Mary! I’m so glad you’re here!

Hi, everyone! I’m Mary and this is my home. My husband, our two daughters — Whimsy, who is two, and Glory, who is three months old – and our two childhood best friends, Austin and Michelle, all live in this home together.

We live in Portland, Oregon. When my husband and I got married in Texas, I asked him to take me somewhere cold and rainy, so we adventured to Portland!

So much color, straight ahead!


Books for Gifting

December 14, 2015

books for gifting

By Gabrielle.

It’s December 14th, and some of you have your gift shopping done, while others are just beginning. If you’re feeling panic-ed about finding gifts for everyone on your list, I highly recommend focusing on books. Why? Because there’s a book that makes sense for everyone out there. Every age, every interest, every reading level. From heavy novels, to how-to guides, to books that are almost like toys. Plus, many (or most?) are available under $20, and they ship really quickly. Hooray!

Here are a few that made my gifting list this year:

1) For the animal lover (or the soon to be animal lover). Do unto Animals. The more we know about the animals in our world, the better we care for them. This is a sweetly illustrated, friendly guide. It’s written by Tracey Stewart (wife of Jon Stewart). I invited Tracey to speak about her work with Moomah at Alt Summit a couple of years ago. I’m a big fan of hers!

2) For the non-traditional new mom. Mama Tried. This is for the pregnant woman who isn’t feeling all rainbows and unicorns about the situation. From New Yorker cartoonist, Emily Flake.

3) For the designer. Tile Makes the Room. Are you familiar with Heath Ceramics based here in the Bay Area? This book is by Heath’s owners Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey, and it’s gorgeous. A coffee table book for the design lovers in your life.

4) For the doodler. The Secret Garden. Probably the most popular of all the grown-up coloring books. It’s printed on thicker and heavier paper stock, to prevent bleed-through from ink pens. The Secret Garden theme also comes in postcards, journals, and calendars. All made for coloring in.

5) For the stylish maker. Everyday Style. This is the latest how-to book from Lotta Jansdotter, the Brooklyn-based, Swedish designer. This book features 25 really cool, modern sewing projects. Each pattern includes lots of options, and she includes fabric sources too.

6) For the young man who is just learning, or the older man who needs a refresher course. The Art of Manliness. I wasn’t sure what to think of this book, but with over 300 positive reviews, I went for it. And it’s good.

7) For the traveler. See San Francisco. Victoria Smith of sfgirlbybay.com wrote a love letter to the city. It will make you want to book a flight asap.

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And here are a few for the kids:

8) For pre-schoolers. Caps for Sale. Written and illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina. It’s the 75th anniversary of this book. Do you remember it from Reading Rainbow? You could also get this newly published sequel, More Caps for Sale, and give them as a set.

9) For 7 to 11 year olds. Superhero Comic Kit. Big oversize book, with lessons on how to draw your own superheros. Girls and boys. Villains and heroes.

10) For 8 to 13 year olds. The Astronaut Instruction Manual. By Mike Mongo. He writes: “The Astronaut Instruction Manual is written for young students who can imagine they may want to live, work, and play in space. By following the clear instructions I have outlined here in The Astronaut Instruction Manual, you will have a head start on doing whatever you most love doing…in space!”

11) For ages 5 up — or pretty much anyone who dreams of writing children’s books. Author Kits from Write Brain Books. The illustrations are already done. It’s up to you to write the story. And you can publish it too!

Okay. Now it’s your turn. What books are you gifting this year? Any that you’re particularly excited about? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — For toddlers, see my list of best-designed board books.


A Few Things

December 11, 2015

Christmas Tree on a foggy morning

Photo and text by Gabrielle. I snapped this on a foggy morning earlier this week.

Hello, Friends! How are you doing? How was your week? Are you making your way through December in one piece? I feel like ours has been pretty darn decent so far. A nice mix of traditions at home, like baking and decorating the tree, plus holiday events, like attending the Nutcracker last Friday and a Holiday Craft Fair at Pixar last Tuesday.

The big thing is that I have yet to really tackle my Christmas shopping, which is very unusual for me, but I hope to do a bunch of it this weekend. Most of it if possible. In fact, that’s pretty much the only thing on my schedule for the next couple of days! How about you? Anything fun happening this weekend?

Not joking about the shopping and about to get right to it, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- The best list to read when the world is hard.

- Hah! How to be a ladyperson at the holidays.

- Raising two transgender kids.

- An electric bike that can power your home.

- Tips on talking to your daughter about her body in healthy ways.

- Related, people react to being called beautiful.

- All combat roles now open to women. I loved the NPR interview about this. Emily Miller talked about how when she was on duty in Afghanistan, she could gather intelligence that the men in her troop couldn’t, because she could talk to the local women, and the men weren’t allowed to. The men in her troop understood what she brought to the table and valued having her on the team.

- It’s not foot in mouth disease.

Woman Facts. From the article: Once women who lived unconventional lives were seized as witches and burned. Now people just say to them, “You look tired.”

- No one covered this Muslim Anti-Isis march.

- Hour of coding for kids using MineCraft.

- Have you been following the Holtzclaw trial? A much deserved guilty verdict was handed down yesterday.

- One last silly one: Do you have an instagram husband?

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.




Photos and text by Gabrielle.

I’ve got a fantastic giveaway for you today. It’s sponsored by Sleep Number® and the prize is one Sleep Number Kids™ sheet set, plus one Sleep Number Kids™ Ultra Light Down Alternative Comforter — if you win, YOU get to pick the size (twin, full or queen) and color!!

New bedding by Sleep Number. The sheets don't crumple at the bottom of the mattress. So cool!

And I’ve got to tell you all about these sheets, because they are unlike anything else I’ve seen out there. Sleep Number® is a long-time sleep innovation leader, and they’ve specifically designed this sheet set to keep kids tucked in and comfortable all night long. The sheets feature something called Smart Button™ Bedding and it prevents the top sheet from getting all bunched up at the bottom of the mattress.

New bedding for kids by Sleep Number. The sheets don't crumple at the bottom of the mattress. So cool!

Basically, the fitted sheet is designed with two buttons on each side, and the top sheet features elastic at the bottom, plus it buttons to the fitted sheet, so wiggly feet stay covered. I love that it keeps the kids cozy at night, and I also love how easy it is for kids to make their bed in the morning!

New bedding for kids by Sleep Number. The sheets don't crumple at the bottom of the mattress. So cool! New bedding for kids by Sleep Number. Lots of fun colors and patterns.

A little more about the prizes: The Sleep Number Kids™ Sheet Sets are 100% cotton and come in both solid colors and fun patterns. The Ultra-Light Down Alternative Comforter is filled with new advanced PrimaLoft® ThermoBalance™ fill, which is designed to prevent you from overheating so you stay dry. It’s lightweight, cozy, and warm — and it’s hypoallergenic too! We picked red and grey to fit right in with the rest of the colors in our girls’ room.

New 100% cotton bedding for kids by Sleep Number. In lots of cute patterns and colors.

The sheets and the comforter are the big prize today, but there are more innovation offerings in the Sleep Number Kids™ family. You could try the Sleep Number Kids™ Blanket — it’s velvety plush on one side, and supersoft sherpa on the other. And it has button holes so you can attach it to the sheet set. There’s the Sleep Number Kids™ Pillow, designed especially for young sleepers, in choices like down alternative and memory foam. They offer a Sleep Number Kids™ Lounge Pillow as well. It’s made for reading, studying or lounging and has side pockets where your kids can stash books, pens, electronics, power cords and other essentials.

And the crown jewel of the collection is The SleepIQ Kids™ Bed. It features eight smart solutions that improve sleep for both parents and children. For example, the head-tilt feature lifts up the mattress for reading in bed or for comforting stuffy noses. And the soft under-bed light guide your kids when they get up during the night. If you’d like to check it out in person, you can find the store locator here. What’s great about SleepIQ® technology is that it couldn’t be easier to use. Nothing to wear, nothing to turn on. All you have to do is sleep!

New bedding for kids by Sleep Number. The sheets don't crumple at the bottom of the mattress. So cool!

To enter the giveaway, check out the Sleep Number Kids™ Bedding and comment below — let me know what sheet set you’d pick if you won! The giveaway is open to US Readers for 1 week.

sleep number logo

P.S. — For those of you who love learning about sleep, you might like seeing these Sleep Number Survey Results filled with interesting stats about how much sleep Americans actually do get. 


By Gabrielle.

Amy Richardson-Golia owns the cutest shop. It’s called June & January, but you may also remember it as Little Hip Squeaks, a fast-growing company whose beginning happened in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. I’ll let Amy tell you about her new office; the visual she paints of her time creating in it without a care in the world — Whoops! Sorry, neighbor! — is as hilariously sweet as something out of a Drew Barrymore movie, and will make you smile for the rest of her interview.

Also, I should tell you that Amy is sleep-deprived, as most of us have probably felt at one point or another. Any encouraging pats on her back and “Go, you!” cheers are surely welcome! And speaking of welcome…hello, Amy!

My husband and I have a four-year-old son named Eli and a ten-month-old daughter called Juniper, the latter of which is a miserable sleeper! Eli is mediocre, at best, so we’re usually up four to five times each night between the two of them.

We alternate sleep-in days; the difference between 6:00 am and 7:00 am is glorious!

More from Amy’s day, just ahead!



Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is in partnership with Quaker Oats.

We’ve reached the point in the school year, where it’s harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning. It’s dark and chilly outside. It’s warm and cozy in bed. Everyone wants to sleep in just 10 more minutes. Including me. And of course, that “just 10 more minutes” somehow turns into 30 more often than it should.

On that topic, I’ve partnered with the Quaker Oats Company to share easy ways to “hack your morning” and provide some simple tricks and tips that help things run a little smoother at the start of the day. At our house, when it’s one of those days where the kids are dragging their feet, I have a few tricks that help them stay on track and get us all out the door a little faster.

The first idea is something you can customize for your own family. At our house, we have a simple question/chant/verbal checklist that each of the younger kids gets asked a couple of times during morning prep. Sometimes it’s Hands-Teeth-Hair? Other times it’s Hands-Teeth-Hair!! As in wash your hands, brush your teeth, and do your hair.


What we’ve found is that making the morning routine feel simple (even if it’s not) is key. There are a lot of things your kids might be asked to do in the morning. Get dressed, do their hair, eat breakfast, make their bed, make their lunch, pack their backpack, brush their teeth, maybe they have a household chore like emptying the dishwasher, or maybe they have to fit in music practice. The list can get overwhelming! Especially for young kids. And it can end up feeling like the mornings are just this everlasting session of nagging. Which nobody wants.

Our kids happen to be quick to do some things — like getting dressed and making their lunches. But other things, like washing their hands, brushing their teeth and doing their hair, can get pushed to the last possible minute. So we made a little chant, or verbal checklist, focused only on those 3 things.

At your house, depending on your kids habits, you might say, “bed, breakfast, lunch” — as in make your bed, eat your breakfast, pack your lunch. Or you might say, “sneakers, trash, backpack” — as in put on your sneakers, take out the trash, and find your backpack. Of course, the kids will still need to brush their teeth or eat their breakfast, even if it’s not part of the verbal checklist — the checklist just helps them complete the tasks that might not get done otherwise.

We’ve found that keeping it simple in the morning so that the list of tasks doesn’t seem too long has been really helpful. The kids know the “hands-teeth-hair” question/reminder is coming, and they do their best to get all 3 finished right away so that they can answer, “Done!” when we ask.


We’ve also come up with some simple hacks to make each of those three tasks — hands, teeth, hair — go a bit faster for our kids. For hands, what works best at our house is to move the soap to the front edge of the counter and set the hand towel right next to it. Why does this matter? Because soap typically lives at the back of the sink, next to the faucet handles. And that’s a perfectly good place for it to live, until you’re dealing with a toddler or preschooler. They often can’t reach the soap. Even when they’re standing on a stool. And if the hand towel is hanging on the wall next to the sink, they probably can’t reach it either.

So as you walk by the bathroom, bring the soap forward, and set the towel down next to it. Make it easy. Those movements will take you seconds, but they take a young child much longer — even minutes. It’s a little thing, but it speeds up the overall morning routine.

For teeth, try this: while kids are eating breakfast or getting dressed, set out their toothbrushes and add the toothpaste to the brushes yourself, so that by the time they arrive at the bathroom, their toothbrush is ready and waiting for them. No toothpaste tube to squeeze, no caps to fiddle with.

Putting on toothpaste can be a tricky thing for little ones, so having it ready for them can make the whole process go considerably faster. The bonus part of this tip, is that it’s also easy to see at a glance if one of your kids hasn’t brushed their teeth yet, because the toothpaste will still be on their brush. : )

For hair, we’ve found the key is having lots of brushes. We used to have what I thought was a pretty normal amount of hair brushes for the kids: two. But it turn out that only having two brushes ends up causing a lot of drama in the mornings. Because at our house, hair brushes migrate. A hair brush might find itself in the family room, while someone brushes their hair and watches a movie at the same time. Or a hair brush might move to the dress-up bin, if someone needs a princess hairstyle to go with their afternoon costume. Or a hairbrush might end up in a back pack, destined for some unknown purpose at school.

These are all good reasons for brush migration, but the result was that a hurried morning would come, and one of our daughters would reach for a hairbrush, and there would be none in the drawer. This would trigger frustration, a panic-ed brush hunt around the house, some blaming of fellow siblings, and good dose of yelling just because.

So, we upped the amount of inexpensive hairbrushes by a bunch. We now have 6 to 8 at any given moment in the kids’ hairbrush drawer, and the result? We haven’t had a stressful “where in the world is my hairbrush?!!!!” moment in ages. No matter how busy the morning, there is always a hairbrush right at hand.

How about you? What have you tried lately to improve your morning routine? What slows you down the most? Do you have any tricks or tips that have worked for you? And if you like tips like this, you can find more morning hacks here.

P.S. — As I write this down, it occurs to me that Oscar and Betty could use an updated little chant, though “hands-teeth-hair’ is still the right focus for our youngest, June!


DIY: Stamped Wrapping Paper

December 9, 2015

stamped-wrapping-paper 12

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

Oh my goodness. Amy Christie texted me a photo of some stamped wrapping paper she was working on and I fell in love! I immediately begged her to share it on Design Mom. It looks so dang cool — that perfect combination of handmade and chic — and it’s made using pretty much the easiest (and kid-friendliest!) technique in the world: stamping.

Even better, the simple “stamps” are made from bits of cardboard! There’s probably some sitting in your recycling bin right this minute.

stamped-wrapping-paper 14

Here’s what Amy says:

As you can imagine, I love when things look handmade which means I love the look of hand-stamped wrapping paper. It looks a little more rustic and imperfect and it feels like it means just a little more because someone spent time on it. (This is not to say I don’t love store-bought wrapping paper. There is some gorgeous stuff out there!) At least once a Christmas season, I try to make a few versions of hand-stamped wrapping paper. I don’t always use it all each season so I have a small collection of paper I’ve stamped. I’ll be honest — some of it I’m finding it hard to part with. Haha!

stamped-wrapping-paper 6

This time, when I went to my craft cupboard to make some stamped wrapping paper, I didn’t have the supplies I thought I did so I improvised. And they turned out great! Just proves you don’t need lots of fancy supplies to make cool things.

stamped-wrapping-paper 10

Stamped wrapping paper is a great project for everyone in your family. It’s a basic process — covering the stamp in paint and pressing it on paper — and there is no stress to make it perfect. Irregular prints and patterns just make the paper more interesting. If children are joining in, think about protecting the work surface with paper, and the ground below (just in case). Then let them stamp. It will be enjoyable for all!

stamped-wrapping-paper 13

Roll up your sleeves and let’s get started!

Click here for the tutorial!


One Holiday Entry, Three Ways - see the same space, transformed for the holidays, in 3 different styles.

Photos and text by Gabrielle. Video by the amazing Gusto Life in Digital. This post is brought to you by Pier 1 Imports.

I’m so excited to share this project with you! I worked with Pier 1 to create a video showing how to put together a holiday entry in three totally different styles. This project was so much fun! And the video is pretty darn adorable if I do say so myself. (Watch for the hedgehog!)

Do you have a particular holiday style? There are so many different things I like, so I’m the kind of person that seems to change it up every few years. Sometimes I go for a homemade feel, other times it’s more glamorous — in France, I worked in some French Industrial touches. And there are years when I crave the colors and style of my own childhood holidays.

In the video, I share 3 distinct styles, and I’m so curious which one appeals to you most! First, I show a theme I’m calling Natural Holiday. Then, I focus on Classic Christmas. And I finish up with Winter Sparkle. The whole video takes place in the entry, and I focus there for two reasons: 1) It makes the first impression! I want my entry to greet people with seasonal cheer, and give a happy holiday feeling to everyone who comes to the front door — neighbors, family, even the UPS delivery guy. And 2) because my mother always did the entry up beautifully. Still to this day, it’s wonderful to visit her home during the holidays and simply walk in the front door.

One Holiday Entry, Three Ways - see the same space, transformed for the holidays, in 3 different styles.

Here are a few of my best tips when you’re putting together your holiday decor:

- To make guests feel really welcome and comfortable, think about the five senses. When they walk in the door, make sure there is something beautiful for them to SEE — a holiday display, a bowl full of ornaments, a garland with lights. Think about what they’ll SMELL as they come in the door. Maybe a scented candle, or something simmering on the stove. Prep a cheery playlist so your guests ears will fill with something wonderful to HEAR. Keep some holiday treats at the ready — peppermint bark, hot cocoa, clementines — so you can offer visitors something to TASTE. And finally, add cozy throw pillows and throw blankets to your seating (and think about extra seating for surprise guests!), so that guests can make themselves comfortable and FEEL at home.

- To make it really magical for the kids, I like to add little surprises for them to discover. Like a woodland creature hidden in the display. Or a little toy wind up toy that they’ll know is meant for them. Or maybe a children’s holiday book to catch their eye.

One Holiday Entry, Three Ways - see the same space, transformed for the holidays, in 3 different styles.

- If you like to keep the holidays homey, I recommend taking inspiration from the Natural Holiday theme in the video. Start by gathering anything beautiful you’ve found outside‚ things like green boughs, pine cones, and a stack of firewood. Then add natural textures like burlap and wool, and rustic accents like a metal bucket to hold your pine boughs. Finish off with candles to add soft light. I love this them because it brings a cabin-y mood to your home.

We’ve celebrated two years in this house, and used nature as our inspiration both years. This place is called The Treehouse for a reason, and nature always looks good here! : )

- When budget is a concern, I like to focus on one color. It’s the most effective way to make a big impact! In the video I focus on red for Classic Christmas, but really you could focus on any color you crave during the holidays.

Pull out anything red you already own in your holiday decorations, then gather red things from around the house (like red books or red boots!), and put them all together in a fun display. Focusing on one color is also a great solution when you’re too busy to spend time thinking about holiday decorations. The color makes all the decisions for you. I should also note, this one color trick also works for parties and gatherings all year long!

One Holiday Entry, Three Ways - see the same space, transformed for the holidays, in 3 different styles.

- Though I have loved all the different decorations we’ve used throughout the years, I definitely think my first instinct for holiday decorating is metallics. Silver and gold. Anything shiny or shimmery or glittery. And that’s what I focused on in the Winter Sparkle section of the video.

I love this look! Pulling all those shiny surfaces together, and adding lots of candlelight or twinkle lights to bounce off their surfaces, makes for a pretty magical mood. I loved adding in my sons’ trombone and trumpet, and also pulling in family photos with frames in silver and gold.

One Holiday Entry, Three Ways - see the same space, transformed for the holidays, in 3 different styles. One Holiday Entry, Three Ways - see the same space, transformed for the holidays, in 3 different styles.

- Whatever your holiday decorating style, Pier 1 has something you’ll love! Their holiday collections are so good — I had the hardest time narrowing down which products I wanted to show in the video. I wanted to show one of everything!

Now it’s your turn. Do you feel like you have a preferred decorating style for the holidays? Or do you like to mix it up like me? Did one of the styles in the video appeal to you the most? Do you bring in any nostaliga to your holiday decorating? Like maybe an ornament from your childhood? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — Here is a small selection of some of my favorite Pier 1 products from the video. From Natural Holiday, don’t miss the Merry Christmas Burlap Banner, the little Hedgehog Ornament, the shimmery Pinecone Garland, and the Oversize Gift Tags.

From Classic Christmas, definitely check out the Sweater Pom Pom Teapot, the light-up JOY Marquee Sign, the Glitter Berry Wreaths, and this Peppermint Creme Scented Candle

From Winter Sparkle, there’s the amazing Capiz Sleigh, the Metallic Ornament Wreath, the Beaded Garland, and this Glitter Candle.

I featured a ton of other Pier 1 products in the videos, so if you’re curious about anything in particular, let me know and I’ll see if I can find the link.


Living With Kids: Alix Adams

December 8, 2015

By Gabrielle.

There’s a lot to like about Alix. She’s honest and direct, and seems to live life head-on and happily. Also, she shares my personal views on baby-proofing, not to mention blogging. (I, too, have met some of my best friends through this space. Very cool!)

Also? She shares sweet photos like the one above from a Fall photo shoot with Sam from Pierson Photo Company.

See what I mean? Likable. Welcome, Alix!

Hello there. I am Alix Adams and I like lots of things. The things I like most are my husband Clint, my son Liam, and my daughter Charlotte. We also have a dog, Jada, who cleans up all food spills, and with a one-year-old and three-year-old that is a lot of spills on the daily.

Together, we all like to watch movies. Liam prefers that the movies come with a side of ‘snuggling, please.’ Charlotte like marching around the house reprimanding everyone, shaking her finger, and declaring us all ‘naughty, naughty, naughty!’ She probably likes breastfeeding the most, though.

By myself, I like to read books; my favorites are Harry Potter, The Giver, and anything David Sedaris. I also like really beautiful cinema — Joe Wright and Wes Anderson make me all mushy — but would settle for a laugh-out-loud slapstick comedy any day. I’m talking to you, Will Ferrell.

Delicious photos, just ahead!


Invisalign Report

December 7, 2015

Invisalign infographic_ 500px

By Gabrielle. Photos by Kristen Loken. This post is brought to you by Invisalign

You may remember that both Ben Blair and I started Invisalign treatment last year. And I’m happy to report, we finished a few months ago! We both LOVE how our teeth look. In fact, we love the improvement so much that we both wish we had made this happen years and years ago.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Invisalign is an alternative to braces — it’s a series of nearly invisible, removable “aligners” that are used to gradually straighten teeth without metal or wires. And it’s not just for mild cosmetic cases. They’ve made some big advances in their technology, and Invisalign can now correct all sorts of issues, like overly crowded teeth, widely spaced teeth, open bite, crossbite, overbite (that’s was me!) and underbite.

Obviously it varies from patient to patient, but in most cases, Invisalign is comparable in cost to traditional braces. Which is fantastic! If you have dental insurance, it might even cover the cost, because most dental insurance plans do, and if not, there are often affordable financing options available. Treatment time is also about the same as with metal braces and in some cases, shorter — the average Invisalign case takes about a year.

If you’re curious about it, there’s probably a doctor nearby that can see if you are a candidate. Here’s the Invisalign doctor locator link.

Invisalign Design Mom 1 Invisalign Design Mom 3

In my experience, there were a ton of benefits from using Invisalign. For me, a major one was time. I only needed to visit the doctor every six weeks or so, and the appointments were brief. The second big benefit was being able to attend events and conferences — chatting with people and being in front of the camera — without feeling self conscious about traditional wire and bracket braces. I feel like I started to smile more confidently as soon as the treatment began!

Invisalign Design Mom 2

If you’ve been thinking of trying Invisalign, why not use the new year as a good excuse to make it happen? It’s the kind of new year goal that comes with concrete steps (like, call and make an appointment for a consultation), so you can really achieve it. According to one survey, an improved smile is something many women believe would give them a boost of confidence (44 percent) and happiness too (36 percent). Just think, a year from now, you could have a whole new smile and a healthier mouth!

And hey, if you’ve have any questions about my experience using Invisalign, feel free to ask in the comments!


peppermint marshmallows

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.

Let’s make marshmallows! Let’s make pretty bags of marshmallows, in lots of different flavors, and give them out to everyone we love!

Have you ever made marshmallows? I have not. But I’ve heard over and over that it’s really easy to do. And I love eating marshmallows, so I figured it’s about time I learned to make them.

Have you ever eaten a homemade marshmallow? They’re kind of game changer. I mean, I’m not one to complain about any sweet treat, so it’s not like I reject store-bought marshmallows, but once you’ve eaten a really good homemade marshmallow, nothing else quite compares.

Homemade Marshmallows and hot chocolate-2 Homemade Marshmallos 3 Ways chocolate, peppermint and vanila marshmallows

I asked Lindsey Johnson to share her favorite marshmallow recipe, and to include all her best tips so that it’s no-fail as possible.

Homemade Vanilla Marshmallows Homemade Marshmallows and hot chocolate

So let’s grab a mug of warm sweetness and get this sugar show on the road!

Click here for the recipe and notes!


A Few Things

December 4, 2015

striped stockings

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

I’m feeling a creativity high from a family photo shoot we did yesterday. I’ve been thinking about the concept for the shoot for a year or so and when Wendy from Blue Lily told me she was coming into town, I shared the idea with her and we officially put a shoot date on the schedule. The concept is very different than anything we’ve ever tried before, but Wendy sent over a few photos from the shoot this morning and I’m dying about how awesome they turned out! I’ve been sharing them on Instagram if you’d like to see. And of course, I’ll share them here too as soon as Wendy has had time to process everything.

Oh my. There is probably nothing I find more satisfying than working on creative projects with my family. It’s heavenly.

As an added selfish benefit, preparing for the photo shoot kept me partially distracted from the mind-numbing loss of life in San Bernardino. I’m still not in a place where I can talk coherently about it, and I won’t pretend to try today. If you’re craving discussion about it, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. I’m not there yet, but I assume I’ll get there eventually and I’ll be glad to know you what’s on your mind. But for now I’m going to continue to distract myself (and maybe you, too) with a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- My friend, Shannon, had the amazing experience of volunteering in a Syrian refugee camp. Here’s 1 part of her report.

- Are there any movies you wish you could unsee?

- It’s called Nexushaus, and it’s a cheap solar powered home that is water independent.

- Hah! Monthly horoscopes by a bitter astrologer.

- 26 things every person should do for themselves at least once a year. What would you add? What would you subtract?

- One of Pantone colors of the year is Rose Quartz. I read that and suddenly had a flash back to junior high. I’m pretty sure I exclusively wore a frosted pink lipstick from Covergirl called rose quartz all through 8th grade. Anyone else?

- Make hand-painted wrapping paper and mod wooden ornaments.

-  Is the Design Mom Book on your gifting list? (If yes, thank you! That’s awesome of you.) If yes, I heard from my publisher that from now through December 15 th, anyone who orders book through this link, can use the promo code HOLIDAY to receive 20% off the list price. And anyone who places their order specifically on December 8 will ALSO receive free shipping. Just a heads up!

I hope you have a really wonderful weekend. I hope we can all find a way to take positive action this weekend — send a care package, make a donation, volunteer, call your senator — in some way that you feel helps make the world a better, kinder place. (Since guns are on my mind, I read this article and I’ll be looking at this list.) I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.



Sugared Cranberry Mini Tarts

December 4, 2015

Sugared Cranberry Mini Tarts | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Liz Berget for Design Mom.

Cranberries! I’ve been craving them. I love the tart flavor. They’re gorgeous to look at. But outside of cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving, and maybe a handful of Craisins when we make granola, I never use them in recipes. I mean never. I buy them to put in vases for flower arrangements, but I don’t have a single recipe that calls for cranberries.

sugared-cranberry-mini-tart 2

So I thought, why not use this holiday baking season to up my cranberry game? I went straight to Liz Berget and asked her to share a cranberry-focused recipe that would be perfect for holiday entertaining.

Make Sugared Cranberry Mini Tarts, Perfect for any holiday event | Design Mom

Look how cute these mini-tarts are?! I adore what she came up with. I love that the sugared cranberries look like they have a coating of frost. So cute! I can’t wait to make these.

Sugared Cranberry Mini Tarts | Design Mom

Before we jump into the recipe, I’d love to hear your take on cranberries? Do you like the taste? Do you ever buy them fresh? Or has your relationship with cranberries been largely focused on the juice (and perhaps it’s magical abilities to heal a uti)? Do you have any favorite recipes that feature cranberries? Please share!

Click here for the recipe and notes!


Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox.

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Legacybox. Get 40% off when you give it a try! Find the code below.

Okay you guys. This one is a game changer. You know that box in the back the closet? The one with photo negatives from the years before your first digital camera and the random camcorder tapes? What is even on those? And you know that shoebox at your Mom’s place? The one with the rolls of Super8 film, and the stacks of slides she inherited from Grandpa? Well pay attention, because I’m about to show you how turn those into high-quality, totally useable digital files. And all you need is Legacybox. It’s like magic!

Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox.

The reality is, almost all of us have those boxes, because technology changes so fast these days, that even something we used on a daily basis 10 years ago, might not be accessible anymore. Do you still have a VHS camcorder? Or a VHS player? Nope? Neither do we. But we did once, and it would be awesome to be able to watch the movies we made on those VHS tapes, right? Wouldn’t your kids love seeing those?

Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox. Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox. Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox.

Legacybox can handle pretty much any old, outdated format you can dish up. Sign up at Legacybox and they will send you a kit which includes a guide, round-trip shipping, a crush proof box, and access to a personal concierge so you can talk to an expert any time. You fill the box with any formats in your collection — tapes, film, image negatives, whatever you’ve got — then send it back with their pre-paid label. Then, you go about your business. In a few weeks you’ll receive your originals back along with DVDs and digital files ready to share and enjoy! I’m telling you, it’s magical.

Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox.

One of my favorite parts, to make sure nothing gets lost or mixed up, the Legacybox kit includes barcode labels. You add a barcode to every single thing you put in the box, and then you can track it all online to make sure your memories stay safe through the whole process.

Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox. Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox. Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox.

We put a bunch of stuff in our Legacybox kit. Photo negatives, a VHS tape from our wedding, a VHS tape with a Bean Society video on it (have I ever told you about The Bean Society?). Getting the box back was such a delight! It felt like finding treasure. One of the things we got back are several photos of baby Ralph — taken before the digital camera era. The first one is from his blessing day:

Stanley Family on Ralph Blair's Blessing Day Ben Blair and toddler Ralph Blair Toddler Ralph Blair

Such a treat for me to be able to see and easily share these images! Want to give it a try? I’ve got a BIG discount code for you! The first 50 people who you use the code DESIGN at checkout will receive 40% off their Legacybox!

Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox.

Tell me, Friends. If you were filling a Legacybox kit, what would you put in? What tapes or images or film is waiting patiently in your storage? What footage have you not seen for 20 years? It’s fun to think about!

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